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Doped Up! How We Sabotage Our Resilience Even Without Alcohol, Nicotine, Narcotics or Pharmaceuticals

Authentic Ancient Traditions are fairly consistent in teaching that there is nothing wrong with taking pleasure in the everyday things of life, that such pleasure is good and healthy and natural.  Some would go so far as to say that the pleasures of life were created for our enjoyment.  Heck, C.S. Lewis’ character Screwtape goes so far as to accuse God of being a secret hedonist.

All this is true.  So what about the other side of the coin, the discipline, the self-denial that finds an equal place in those traditions?  There are many important aspects to this question (none of which have anything to do with self-mortification or penance as taught in Western Christianity of the last thousand years), but one that is particularly important for this culture to understand, is that many of our so-called pleasures are actually manifestations of pain.

Specifically, they are manifestations of the anxiety trap (also known as the adrenaline addiction cycle), and situations of personal constriction and dissatisfaction.  Through chronic pleasure-seeking (more accurately, stimulation-seeking), we are seeking validation from something outside of ourselves to make up for something that should be coming from within, but is not.  Unfortunately, the neural and biochemical results of these activities in turn reduce our ability to find what we are truly looking for.

 

 

Drugs of Choice

We can all recite the litany of addictive drugs, from alcohol through nicotine to cocaine and heroin.  And it is true that drug addiction often begins with unaddressed pain.

But the real drugs of choice for our society are things we don’t usually consider in that light.

 

Food

Food, particularly fast food and junk food, the high-sugar, high-sodium food substitutes that are so easy to come by, is one of the first drugs of choice.  Between sports drinks, soft drinks, chocolate bars and corner store candy, we have almost limitless opportunities for a sugar high.  High carb, high transfat diets, in fact the obesity epidemic itself, is symptomatic of an underlying dysfunction in society.  People who are happy with themselves and their lives simply do not make those choices – their bodies know better, and they listen.

 

Adrenaline and Other Stimulation Highs

We’ve written previously (http://globalresiliencesolutions.com/escaping-survival-mode) about the cycle of adrenaline addiction in our society.  Constant, low-level, unresolved stress sustains the fight-or-flight response, making us biochemically dependent on adrenaline, and above all, persuading us to see the universe in antagonistic and hostile terms.  This biochemical process is the cornerstone of the modern Newtonian Worldview.

As this kind of constant, low-level anxiety has taken hold, we’ve seen a distinct change in how we entertain ourselves.  While society experienced rebellion against established forms of music, for instance, as liberating, another, largely unnoticed theme went along with the change.  It is the same theme that has gone along with changes to film and television for at least the past twenty years.

You see, traditional forms of entertainment, whether musical, literary, theatrical or anything else, had a common element.  They were designed to relax us while engaging our intellectual and creative capacities.  Recreational reading in itself, as John Taylor Gatto among others has persuasively argued, required a high level of intellectual participation from the reader, and required both attention and relaxation, in a way that an increasing segment of the population is simply unfamiliar with today.  Classical music was mathematically complex and relaxing.  Folk music was relaxing and participatory.

Ever since this sensibility has changed – and it was quite a jarring change if you think about it- we have had a different expectation from entertainment.  We expect stimulation- laughter certainly, but also provocation, controversy, anger, noise, violence, titillation, and above all, adrenaline.  Where it was once customary to reduce anxiety by relaxing with, well, relaxing things, we now feed the adrenaline addiction directly.  The problem with violence on television isn’t (primarily) desensitization, but rather that most of the audience will never have the same opportunities to discharge the adrenaline they have built up as the fictional characters do.

Of course, every other kind of stimulation complements that adrenaline high, and so we have the ever-expanding world of designer energy drinks to keep us juiced twenty-four hours a day.  Titillation also goes well with adrenaline, as the advertising industry knows.

 

Social Media and Video Gaming

Social media addiction is about the feeling we get from belonging, acknowledgement by others, fitting in within a group.  Social media caters to our instincts as social animals on a scale that would once have been considered ludicrous.  The addiction component, however, is tied to the need to be heard, to feel something other than helplessness at the circumstances of your life.  In this sense, it is a band-aid at best.

Video game addiction, by contrast, is a release rather than a band-aid.  It is a surrogate for the natural consummation of the fight-or-flight response.  Unfortunately, there are very few video games with only one troll to kill, so the adrenaline addiction is heightened, not reduced.

 

Coming Down

The adrenaline addiction cycle is one reason that we surround ourselves with stimulus.  The other is constriction or dissatisfaction.  In the post about the emotional roots of chronic disease (http://globalresiliencesolutions.com/emotional-roots-of-chronic-disease), we mentioned the ways in which life patterns of either constriction of anger or enslavement to it can start.  Similar patterns appear in many different areas of our lives.  An unconscious belief or experience leads us to replicate the same dissatisfying relationships, career situations, family dynamics or personal habits again and again.  In the face of apparent helplessness, we turn to any of a dozen ways of distracting ourselves.

The catch is that by doping ourselves, we exaggerate whatever biochemical problems we already have.  We lead ourselves further and further away from a positive attitude and a healthy lifestyle.  That above all is why a new attitude needs to come with a change to your external lifestyle choices. 

The flip side of that coin is that by making those external changes, you can begin to move yourself toward a better mindset. The question we should all be asking ourselves is, “How am I doping myself and why?”  An uncomfortable question, to say the least, but absolutely essential if we want to become truly RESILIENT and, therefore, HAPPY.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Master the Devastatingly Effective “Water Strategy”

“Resist not evil” is perhaps the most difficult saying in all of Christian scripture.  Even “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” is easier.  After all, we can love and still resist, can’t we?  On the face of it, “Resist not evil” seems ludicrous, a call to surrender to the forces of darkness.  But it contains a secret that is a key principle of self-transformation.

 

Last week we talked about water.  “Nothing in the world is softer or weaker than water, yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong.”  Lao Tzu was quite right.  Water not only wears down stone- the preferred method of cutting hardened steel for use in high-precision applications employs high-pressure water jets.  In the Art of War, Sun Tzu writes about the “Water Strategy”- strategists, he says, should be like water, following the path of least resistance.

 

 

All of the most effective martial arts use this principle to achieve stunning results.  The secret is to confront any incoming force, not with force in return, but with its opposite, and to do so naturally, automatically.  In Taijiquan (i.e., Tai Chi), this balance is represented by the Eight Energies.  Faced with incoming force, Taiji will roll out of the way or yield and suck it in.  In Baguazhang, combat is visualised as a circle on the ground containing eight trigrams of the I Ching- fire, water, earth, sky etc. (hence the name “eight trigram boxing”).  Faced with one energy, it moves to another.

It’s worth taking a moment to unpack these principles, because they are actually operating on many different levels, and the martial arts are only one area of life where you can apply them.  In the world of physical force, it is always better to avoid strength than to confront it directly, which depletes both sides.  But the same logic applies to many other kinds of decisions in combat, from posture to techniques to attitudes.  The last one is particularly key for us, because this is where the water strategy comes back to everyday life.  The classic martial arts application is confront ferocity with serenity, tension with relaxation, anger with peace and so on.  Aikido is particularly attentive to the application of these principles in real life, and many Aikido stories talk about this (the most famous example can be found here). http://dontmindnomind.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/soul-series-a-short-story-by-terry-dobson/

 

Time for a visual.  Draw a circle, with two concentric rings, an inner ring and an outer ring.  On the inner ring, put the various attitudes and emotions of which human beings are capable, with their opposites across from them.  Affection, anger, fear, confidence, appreciation, sorrow, joy- all of these have a legitimate place and expression in human life.  It’s only when they are out of balance that they become a problem.  In the outer track, you can write the distorted versions of the emotion that you encounter.  Next to fear, you could write insecurity, jealousy and so on.  Next to anger- rage, resentment, hatred.

When confronted with an unbalanced attitude or emotion on one side of the circle, you can try confronting it with its balanced counterpart from the other side.  To learn to do this naturally, consistently and effectively often requires years of attention.  It is the most difficult spiritual discipline, to learn to return kindness for rudeness, appreciation for ingratitude, even love for hatred.  You can create peace from conflict this way.  It is never guaranteed.  But most importantly, you preserve your inner freedom.

It requires practice, resilience and sensitivity to make sure that you are adequately addressing the energy that comes at you and to find the strength to stand firm on your side of the circle, but the result is often that the emotions you are confronting can be defused.  If they cannot, then you lose nothing, but you gain the knowledge that the other person is acting out of a more deeply-set pathology rather than momentary impulse.  In that situation, it is even more important to stand your ground and not to get sucked into their emotional state.

 

On a grand scale, how does this strategy stack up?  The cynical impulse in today’s society tells us that only force can deal with force, that ultimately, goodness is no defense against power.  But is that true?  Gandhi and the Civil Rights Movement are the two counterexamples that people usually point out first, but they are far from the only ones.  The Czech dissident movement led by Vaclav Havel used some of the same methods and achieved similar results.  There are many smaller-scale movements out there today that are using the same methods successfully on behalf of disadvantaged groups.

It is sometimes a very costly strategy.  Some of the most dramatic cases were the Christians martyred for their faith by the Roman Empire.  In most cases, they did not have to die- there was a way out.  But they stuck to their principles, and went to their deaths without bitterness.  They often went out of their way to be kind even to their executioners.  In so doing, they showed a society in which gravitas and fortitude were the ultimate virtues the completeness of their inner freedom.  The result transformed an empire.

But if the cost can be so high, if the water strategy doesn’t guarantee results, then why use it?

 

We mentioned the importance of inner freedom.  Inner freedom in this sense means that you are the master of your own inner state.  You no longer react to whatever energy other people give you- you respond to it.  Our attitudes and emotions can be like a thick fog when we are faced with stressful situations.  We react instinctively, we activate neural circuits that carry the baggage of previous similar situations, our body floods with hormones and neurotransmitters and before we know it, we’re blinded by our own reaction.  We don’t see other options.  The water strategy returns control to us.  Our inner state becomes our toolkit rather than everyone else’s garbage dump.

But this is only the first level of inner freedom.  What do we use that toolkit for?  Without right intention, there is no inner freedom.  The preferred objective is an honorable peace.  “Honorable” means that we intend to openly and honestly lay out the truth as we see it, minus the emotional baggage we may have attached to it.  It also means that we intend to engage with the other person and gain an understanding of their perspective and deal with it fully and honestly.  The water strategy avoids only the damaging effects of unbalanced inner states, never the conflict itself- on the contrary, it is tenacious and goes to the heart of the matter along the path of least resistance.  Small matters can easily be dropped, but it is better to understand why the other person is in such a state and deal with it if the matter is serious, rather than risk a false resolution and recurrence.

“Peace” means that compassion underlies our whole approach.  You seek to restore right relationship.  The centre of the circle of the emotions is serenity- which is not the absence of emotion but the sublimation of emotion.  But on a deeper level, compassion, or rather, love, is the ultimate centre.  Only with compassion does it become possible to get inside another person’s mind and heart without it being a hostile intrusion, and only if you can do that can you truly create peace.  It is also a good yardstick to check your intentions.  If you are dealing with the other person as an obstacle to be cleared, if you have an ulterior motive of your own, then you can begin to see how you are contributing to the situation.

This is also where the biggest paradox comes into play.  Sometimes, there is simply no way to resolve a conflict.  Sometimes a person is harming others and cannot be dissuaded in a reasonable time.  If you can find serenity and compassion in that situation, you can do what needs to be done.  Even if you’re angry, and we’ve talked about the legitimate uses of anger, you can act without binding your inner freedom to that or any other emotion.

We said in the title that the Water Strategy is “devastatingly effective”.  Hopefully now you see that its effectiveness is across the board – it not only allows you to prevail in any conflict, physical or emotional; it also allows you to prevail OVER YOURSELF.  And what greater victory is there than that?

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

 


Emotional Roots of Your Chronic Health Challenges

 

This blog has tended to focus a great deal on the physical factors behind the chronic disease epidemic in our society, but an increasing body of research is pointing to another factor as the common denominator of disease.

That factor is stress, or rather, the way we process emotion and cope with inputs from the world.  Many followers of this blog will be familiar with the idea that trauma and unreleased emotion can lodge physically in the body’s energy system and become a cause for physical and psychological disease.  What few of us realize is that the very basic ways we process our life experiences may be causing this damaging emotional storage in the first place.

 

Roots in Childhood

What people often misidentify as their personality, their spectrum of emotional reaction to various stimuli, is simply a collection of coping mechanisms accumulated fairly early in childhood.  Dr. Gabor Maté, well-known Canadian physician, author and palliative care specialist, has intensively studied the emotional lives of people afflicted with diseases from cancer to heart disease to Alzheimer’s to irritable bowel syndrome, and the link is almost universally inescapable.  Certain personalities tend to get certain diseases.

 

The Personality Spectrum

On one side of his spectrum, Dr. Maté places the familiar Type A personality- dominating, irascible, incapable of emotional repression.  On the other side is a super-agreeable, self-abnegating personality, the kind that will check their own emotional expression and personal needs at the door in order to make things, allegedly, better for others.  In the middle is a balanced personality.  It turns out that the Type A personality is prone to certain diseases, notably heart disease, while the repressed personality is prone to others, most notably cancers.

 

Psychoneuroimmunology (yes, it’s a big word 😉

As early as the 1950s, physicians all over the world were beginning to notice connections between personality and disease.  Studies in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research  began to illustrate some of the connections.

Dr. David Kissen designed a study showing that lung cancer patients were more emotionally repressed than the general population.  A longitudinal study of a village in the former Yugoslavia over a ten-year period monitored disease and mortality in a test population of 1400 in relation to a personality and emotional processing-based survey.  Ten years later, the highest mortality was from exactly the part of the population that exhibited rational, non-emotional coping styles.

Incidence of cancer was about forty times higher in this segment than in the general population.  Again, those who developed lung cancer all exhibited this trait- although all who did develop lung cancer were smokers, smokers did not develop the disease in the absence of this trait.

From observations like this, the field of psychoneuroimmunology began to take shape.  Very briefly, psychoneuroimmunology studies the connections between the mind, the brain and nervous system, the immune system and the endocrine system.  What it has discovered is that we can actually hyperstimulate our own immune systems through constant low-level stress.  The immune system, of which the adrenal glands are part and parcel, is complex and interconnected, but while it does respond to pathogens, it ultimately takes its orders from the emotional centers of the brain.  If we are under certain kinds of stress, the whole system activates, sending adrenaline and messenger chemicals throughout our systems.  This includes the fight-or-flight response triggers – uncertainty, conflict and lack of control.

If this continues at low level for years without what is called consummation – something that the body interprets as ending this abnormal state – the body will continue to assume that there is a present danger.  It will excrete adrenaline and hormones until the chemical balance and receptivity of the whole system is altered and the immune system begins to degrade.

 

Beliefs

Certain basic beliefs are strongly associated with illness.  The really interesting thing is that, while they all seem to be on the repressive side of the emotional spectrum, many of them can apply equally to Type A personalities, albeit in different ways.

 

–          I have to be strong

–          I am separate from everything else

–          I am responsible for everything

–          I can handle anything

–          I must be very ill to deserve care

–          I mustn’t be angry

–          I’m not wanted

–          I exist to serve others

 

Although articulated as beliefs, each of these generally boils down to a personality trait established in childhood, usually through relationships to parents.  In some cases, a domineering parent plagued by insecurity will try to remake a child in their preferred image; at the opposite end of the spectrum, emotionally absent parents starve the child of attention, let alone affection.  Whatever the case, the bottom line is that the child self-edits, modifies their own behavior and self-expression in order to try to regulate this key relationship that is being jeopardized.  Very often, the extent of the dysfunction isn’t realized until illness kicks in – a biological signal that something is badly out of balance.

 

The Way Out

Dr. Maté presents a seven-step program for changing this psychological disease process.  The steps, in brief, are:

  1. Acceptance – We have to recognize and accept the problems of the present, to gain information from our own negative emotional processes without letting them control us.  Only by accepting ourselves as we are can we begin to move forward.
  2. Awareness – This means regaining emotional awareness and the ability to recognize our own emotional truth.
  3. Anger – See below.
  4. Autonomy – We learn to express ourselves as distinct individuals in childhood, but many people were not adequately taught to do this by their parents, and must do so in order to recoup the emotional baggage of childhood and to move forward.
  5. Attachment – Childhood teaches us in short order whether the world is a loving and accepting place, or a dangerous place full of uncertainty.  This directly impacts our willingness to expose ourselves to the vulnerability of relationship.  Without attachment and emotional support, there is no healing.
  6. Assertion – Assertion means standing before ourselves and the world and acknowledging that we are who we are, that separate from all of the performative acts with which we try to establish our identity, separate from all the clutter and the tumult, we exist, unique and fundamentally worthy of existence.  It is letting go of the need to act.  By doing so, we cease to play the parts we have scripted for ourselves.
  7. Affirmation – Affirmation means embracing a direction, a set of fundamental values for which we will strive.  This means freeing ourselves to create, to build something of meaning to us, which means we must listen to ourselves and our own deeper desires.  It also means connection with the universe, with spiritual life, abandoning the belief that we are isolated and embracing the seeking and finding of the universal good beyond ourselves.

 

Anger

We will focus on step 3, because it seems in many ways to be the lynchpin.  Inability to express anger and constant expression of anger are two sides of the same coin.  In either case, the anger and the sources of anger are still in the system.  Many cancer sufferers are noted for their inability to express anger or even to feel it when they ought to, so deeply is it buried.  On the other hand, according to a study at Johns Hopkins, dominant and irascible personalities are an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease.

Both approaches to anger represent, in the words of Toronto psychotherapist Allen Kaplin, a fear of the genuine experience of anger.  Normal anger is both empowering and relaxing.  It is a surge of power responding to a threat, and in that moment of empowerment, the muscles and the whole system naturally relax.  Not exactly anger as portrayed on television!  Rage, on the other hand, is described by its sufferers fundamentally as a state of anxiety and fear.

And that is the clue.  Some children adapt to dysfunction in parental relationships by trying to manage those relationships through their own good behavior.  Others are seized by the anxiety of the tenuousness of this critical element of life, and begin to act out through bursts of rage.  In either case, the more anger is forbidden, the more guilt is attached to anger, the more abnormal, lasting and anxiety-ridden the experience of it becomes.  Some defend against the feeling by never expressing it, others by expressing it when it first appears so that they don’t have to experience it.

To change this dynamic means acknowledging anger, accepting the information it carries, experiencing it internally, and then deciding consciously whether or not to act on it.  Healthy anger stands up and says “I matter.”  It does not manifest as rage, but as the assertion of calm.  By lifting our engrained rejection of anger, it can come to serve its proper function – as a transient state designed to redress temporary problems, and then to naturally leave the system.

The bottom line, of course, is that for all of us, it’s critical to look at our emotional patterns if we really want to become RESILIENT people – and the works of Dr. Gabor Maté are a great place to start.  For one thing, until we disentangle all the coping mechanisms from our true personality, we don’t even know who we really are (a theme I discussed at some length in The 5 Pillars of Life).

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

 

 

 


Thought Rehearsal: Reinstall Your Personal Programming

We human beings are in many ways self-programmed…

The way in which you run through and perceive your life depends heavily on the programs you yourself have installed.  You already know  that your environment and circumstances cause the neurons in your brain to organize in a particular pattern, which results in changes to your emotional state and to the chemical state of your body.  What you may not realize is that by rehearsing the memory of that experience, you program yourself to be predisposed to that state.

Stacking the Deck – Will You Stack it FOR or AGAINST Yourself?

Here’s how it works.  Emotions help us to remember experiences – we remember how it felt, and we tend particularly to remember things that evoke a strong emotional response.  In neurological terms, the brain records our chemical state at that time.

Let’s say that you have a particularly upsetting experience- maybe being fired from a job, maybe a fight with someone close to you.  Afterward, you rehearse that experience over and over in your mind.  What your mind remembers at that point is not an objective record of what happened, but a mosaic of all of the most powerfully unpleasant stimuli which have been chemically seared into your memory.

You quickly recreate in your body the same emotional-chemical state that the experience itself created.  You become saturated with fear and anger.  This is nothing more than prolonged stimulation of the fight or flight response.  And maybe this incident continues to bother you, and you periodically relive it for years on end.  And maybe it feeds into a whole chain of similar incidents you have lined up already, all gnawing at your sense of self-worth, feeding that fight-or-flight response.  Talk about shell-shock!

Your body can’t tell the difference between real and remembered experience, so as far as it’s concerned, it is living in the past.  If rehearsed long enough, these feelings become so engrained that you cannot think them away, and even during pleasant experiences, your own chemical ground state is stacked against you.  Everything you perceive is then seen through this emotional-chemical haze.  You become addicted to the chemicals associated with your current feeling state, and subconsciously resistant to changing them.

Mental Rehearsal – A Key to Setting Things Right

Fortunately, mental rehearsal cuts both ways.  If it controls you, you can get into big trouble.  But once you wake up to it, it becomes one of the most powerful tools you have for changing your own life.  We’ve touched on this before, when I mentioned Tibetan “Highest Yoga Tantra.”  Human beings are remarkable for the ability we have to create our own stimulus, to visualize events and states of being more vivid than our surroundings.  That means we don’t have to passively wait for events to change our thinking- we can get started on changing our neural processes and chemical environment right now.  It is this, in turn, that allows us to respond effectively when good things do manifest in our lives.  The more you refine your “programming” through mental rehearsal, the more you line up all the neurons on your side and the better you will execute the “program” in real-life situations.

The Catch – You Have to BELIEVE

But there’s a catch: you have to believe it, not just as a possibility, but as something that both can and will happen.  You see, we believe in the bad stuff.  We devote ourselves to accumulating evidence for the bad stuff.  It’s easy to believe that we’ll crash and burn.  It’s much more difficult to really believe that we’re going to succeed, and to accumulate evidence in our own favour.  We tend to self-program to build the case for the prosecution, and it takes willpower and attention to build the case for our own success.

As we rehearse the states and situations that we want for ourselves, we are actually changing not just our brains, but our bodies.  Research using brain scans to record these changes is now beginning, and we know that the body can be changed by thinking.  In one experiment, a group was told to think about a certain exercise for a given amount of time every day, and another group to actually do the exercise.  The group that thought about it actually showed significant muscle development compared with the control group.  Your body will begin to feel different, and as you continue to rehearse, the state of being you visualize will slowly move into the realm of nondeclarative memory, that is, the point of unconscious competence.  At that point, you will have changed what it is to be you!

Think about the qualities that define your ideal self.  Think of a role model whom you would want to emulate, and imagine what it would be like to be them.  At this stage, you are imagining what real contentment and happiness with your life feels like, and you are placing yourself in the middle of it.  You are practicing being happy, and re-wiring your brain to think about happiness differently.  By thinking about being happy, you generate the emotions associated with it, which in turn produce physical and chemical changes.  You have gone from thinking about happiness to doing happiness to being happy, and that is an incredible shift!

Next, take some of those qualities you listed.  Read about them, about people who exhibited them.  Think about some of the difficult situations in your life and how those people would react differently to them.  We have to consciously re-program our responses.

Now take one of the emotions associated with a negative event you have memorized.  Observe how it feels in your body.  Observe where that feeling is, its texture.  Observe what it does to your breathing, your posture.  Be with it and do not run away from it.  Then observe how that feeling causes you to think, what your attitude is, what that feeling does to you.  You have now brought it to the level where you can consciously deal with it, and there are a few ways to do that, which we will touch on in later posts.

For now, understand the power that comes with being able to control who you are and what influences you take in.  Consciously arresting negative rehearsal and instituting positive rehearsal can be a dramatic first step in creating the new you.

For a more detailed breakdown of how to use mental rehearsal to your advantage, I highly recommend Dr. Joe Dispenza’s book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself.  You can watch Dr. Joe give you an introduction right here:


The Awesome Power of SOUND…

Continuing with our exposition into the power of the senses, this week we’ll be talking about sound. Right now, all the time, your ears are picking up and feeding you a constant stream of information. The sounds that you hear, and those you don’t, can have an astonishingly profound effect on you and on your personal resilience.

First of all, what is sound? Sound is energy. Our ears are so sensitive that they pick up on minute sources of this energy — when a mosquito flies, it produces about one quadrillionth of a watt of energy. By comparison, the average light bulb requires 60 watts. Our ability to sense these miniscule vibrations through space is actually an incredibly interesting gift.

You’re probably aware of the soothing effect sounds can have on you. The wild noises of birds and other animals, insects, wind rustling through trees and water are often used to soothe during times of stress or during meditation. But why? Most experts assume this is simply an evolutionary response. These are the sounds we would have evolved to recognize as home. In a world of sirens, traffic and the silence of an indoor setting, people begin to feel disconnected and even unsafe. Visiting places where birdsong is audible or even putting on a CD of ocean waves tends to make you feel reassured and secure.

Audio Ecologist Gordon Hempton researches and records sounds in the parts of the world that are totally free from human noise pollution. But he has quite a job tracking those places down first! You see, the parts of the world without human-made sounds such as traffic, industrial noise and passing jets are rapidly dwindling. Over the past twenty years, countless studies have also shown that noise levels in the city are increasing at a steady rate. What does this have to do with resilience? Well, high noise levels cause a rise in blood pressure, an increase in stress, hypertension, sleep disturbances and even tinnitus. Some recent research even indicates that the sound of your heartbeat has a calibrating effect on the rest of your metabolism.  Logically, that would suggest that loud, jarring sound could well interfere with this natural sonic calibration and lead to a great deal of stress.

It can be really helpful to get away from it all — try visiting a local protected park. Even a neighbourhood park can bring a certain peace. You can also simply visit his website: lie back and take in the bioacoustics at http://soundtracker.com/

Here you can watch Hempton in action!

On the other hand, how hard would it be to live in a world of complete silence? Scientists at Orfield Labs have created something called the Anechoic Chamber in Minneapolis, Minn. Its walls and floors are covered in fiberglass wedges and insulating material to capture every sound wave. Inside, the rooms is measured as being at -9 decibels – “dead” quiet!

Those who have ventured inside have found the experience intensely unsettling. After you settle in there, the ear adjusts until all you can here are the organic noises of your own body as your heart beats, you breathe and you digest food. The cessation of the flow of signals and cues that inform your body subconsciously of where you are and what is going on around you doesn’t register immediately. But when it does, people become extremely disoriented.

Company founder Steven Orfield explains: “The quieter the room, the more things you hear. You’ll hear your heart beating, sometimes you can hear your lungs, hear your stomach gurgling loudly… In the anechoic chamber, you become the sound.” Of the visitors to the chamber, the longest that anyone has been able to hold out was only 45 minutes!

Silence is also one of the most effective tools of communication there is — it can be punitive – to show anger, disappointment, discomfort, etc. – or, conversely, it can be a gesture of intimacy.

But of course, we can learn a lot from speech as well. In multiple studies, listening to audio recordings of loved ones could tell participants a great deal of information when they were really listening. There was a great deal hidden within the tones of the voices recorded. After listening, study participants were able to guess how tired the speakers were, if they were happy, sad or angry, and if they were stressed, with a surprising level of accuracy.

This information surrounds you every day. But it’s so easy to tune out sound. If you really pay attention to the timbre of a person’s voice, you can tell a lot about them. The same goes for your surroundings: becoming aware of the sounds that do you good will lead you to appreciate them more often.

This week, to reduce stress, take off your headphones and listen to the world around you. Appreciate the natural beauty of birdsong and wonder at silence. Grow closer to your friends and family. Remember: all you have to do is listen 🙂

Here is a fascinating talk about the power of sound, and the want that is can impact your health and productivity, and ultimately your personal success:


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(There’s a special breathing exercise for you at the end, but read the whole thing first!) Last time I talked a bit about how and why to use the summer months to work on certain aspects of your fitness, aspects that are far easier to work on with the higher ambient temperatures.  (Speaking of higher […]


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“In the last decade or so, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness (EQ) and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships.” –John Gottman, Ph.D. After some […]



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